Chamber Music by Erich Wolfgang Korngold

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Chamber Music by Erich Wolfgang Korngold
Eusibius Quartet ‚óŹ Alastair Beatson Piano

SOMM Recordings SOMMCD 0642 [68:30]

Pre-pandemic I would have been put off reviewing this album by its title but since March 2019, with lockdown and social distancing, most of the new releases have needed to be by small groups or soloists; and with more time to listen my appreciation of these genres has been increased.

Erich Wolfgang Korngold (b. Brünn 1897 d. Hollywood 1957) has been described as one of the most gifted composing child-prodigies in the history of music. He composed his first original work at the age of eight, and a ballet that caused a sensation three years later.

A lot of us will have some of his movie music and, possibly, his Violin Concerto in our collections, and know of his Symphony from the review here of John Wilson’s very fine Sinfonia of London recording. But how many were aware that his chamber music was also highly regarded? Now the ever-enterprising SOMM label has put that right with this album.

For starters I would recommend listening to the delightful third work: String Quartet No.2 in E-flat major, written in 1933 – the year Hitler became German chancellor and dictator – shortly before Korngold first left Austria for California. It is warmly tuneful, ending with a Waltz (Finale) that is an example of why he was called “the very last breath of the romantic spirit of Vienna”.

The middle work from 1918 is the earliest, written by Korngold while he was still in the army, for a new stage production of Shakespeare’s Viel Lärmen um Nichts (Much Ado About Nothing). The lovely Gartenscene (Intermezzo) is in an arrangement made at the request of Beatrice Philips (first violinist of the Eusebius Quartet) by the notable pianist and composer Tom Poster, and is a world premiere recording.

The opening work Piano Quintet in E major was written in 1921, and the author of Korngold’s definitive biography Brendan G Carroll’s impressively informative liner notes refer to its “flamboyant, heroic melodic style”. Joining the quartet is pianist Alasdair Beatson, who The Sunday Times once reviewed as “Artistry Incarnate”.

With Beatrice Philips the other three members of the excellent Eusebius Quartet are Venetia Jollands, violin; Hannah Shaw, viola; and Hannah Sloane, cello. First meeting as teenagers, they got together five years ago and are fast-gaining an international reputation – presumably Covid and Brexit permitting.

The first seven tracks were recorded at The Menuhin Hall, Stoke d’Abernon with recording producer Siva Oke (owner of SOMM Recordings) in November 2020, and the last four at Wathen Hall, St Paul’s School, London, in December 2018.

Pleasure increases the more one seriously listens to this album. Repeated listening brings its own reward and should not be missed.

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